Feature: Nintendo Life Book Club - Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Posted by Philip J Reed
Eventually Howell stumbles upon a reason to keep Tim around: Dracula’s spirit (that’s his actual spirit, not his blood) wishes to possess Simon’s body, and Tim can help keep Simon from being periodically overcome by the vampire.
In these “fighting for control of the body” scenes, Howell aims for an unnerving homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What he achieves is something marginally less frightening than Jim Carrey’s The Mask.
This comparison is doubly appropriate, actually, as Tim’s weapon of choice against Dracula during these struggles is his... erm... wit.
If Tim Bradley could have screamed, he would have let out a long, loud one. Unfortunately, he was so paralyzed with fear that he could barely move, let alone make a sound. Dracula was taking over Simon Belmont’s body!
“Ah-ha! You are a puny little nothing, aren’t you? Why ever did Simon Belmont choose you?” asked Dracula’s voice, coming from Simon’s transformed body. [...] “I shall enjoy hearing you squeal and feeling you squirm when I sink my lovely fangs into your soul!”
“Is that the tooth?” Tim shot back.
“Arrgh!” cried Dracula’s voice. Simon’s body jerked back as though physically struck. “A pun! I abhor puns! If there’s anything I can’t stand more, it’s stupid, silly jokes!”
“Really! Well then, Drac, maybe you’d like to know why a duck flies looking down?”
“No!” Simon’s body shook with violent tremors. “No! Stop or I shall tear you to pieces!”
“Because he doesn’t want to quack up!”
Forget garlic, holy water, wooden stakes or crucifixes; according to Christopher Howell, Dracula is most easily defeated by bad jokes. If you’re being terrorized by a vampire, you don’t need a Belmont or a Van Helsing; you need your annoying Uncle Larry.
In order to prevent Dracula from body-swapping permanently, Simon and Tim need to track down Dracula’s body parts. Along the way, Tim keeps Simon from succumbing to the 7 Deadly Sins, lest he become an even easier vessel for Dracula to inhabit. There’s a scene in which Simon is hungry after a battle with some ghouls, and Tim tells him not to eat, as he doesn’t want him to commit the sin of gluttony. I’d really hate to break it to you, Tim, but I don’t think that was Simon feeling the pull of the 7 Deadly Sins so much as it was the pull of the 5 Basic Food Groups.
Nevertheless, Simon keeps him around, as it’s obviously very valuable to have by your side an annoying child who won’t let you satiate your thirst or hunger after physically demanding tasks.
Along the way they meet a friendly monster named Freddie. Tim is sceptical that he’s really as friendly as he claims:
“We have a guy in the horror movies back home. His name is Freddy, too.”
“Ah, but ‘Freddie’ with an i-e?”
“Hmm. No, I suppose it’s with a y.”
“Well, there you go! All good monsters have there [sic] names end with an i-e; all bad ones with a y. Helps keep things straight.”
Yes, of course. That’s why Simon’s out to rid the land of the curse of Count Draculay, and in other scary stories the heroes are battling Frankensteiny, the Wolfmay, hordes of zombays, and the Mumm... oh okay. That one works, actually. You’ve done your research!
You’ll notice the grammatical error in the passage quoted above, and that’s because this is the point in the book at which F.X. Nine’s editor fell asleep. While the entire text is riddled with misspellings, incomplete sentences and unintentionally-deployed homophones, it only gets worse from here. The next few pages feature “dundgeons,” “an red sign,” a character whose name alternates between “Slimy” and “Slimey,” and, particularly embarrassing, “The Ye Olde Anti-Vampire Shoppe.” We’re not only reading a terrible book, we’re reading the first draft of a terrible book. (Fans of the game will be pleased to know that they at least spell “possess” right, though.)
Soon after the pointless debate with Freddie over the proper spelling of the names of fictional beasts, Howell realizes that he’s two-thirds of the way through the book and our heroes have only gathered one of Dracula’s parts. This leads to a paragraph-long info dump in which we’re assured not only that the rest of the parts were successfully collected, but that the circumstances surrounding their collection were really so very exciting, yes indeed they most certainly were.
It’s very nice of Howell to tell us how exciting these events were, but since he was writing the book, couldn’t he have let us read about them and be excited as well?
Nah. Not when he needs to save precious space for scenes such as this, in which Simon barters with a merchant:
“Can’t give away these things free,” he said. “A man’s got to make a livin’, ya know? And I reckon from the looks of you — I mean with those blonde locks and those muscles I take you to be a hero and probably a wealthy man [...].”
Simon was aghast at this. “I am not a rich man by any means. I serve goodness and right!”
“Ah, yes, but this nose — ” he touched his ratlike snout “ — this proboscis of mine smells coins, and these ears — ” he tapped a hairy lobe “ — they hear the jingle of coins, no?”
“In truth, I do have a few coins in my pocket. And perhaps I can spare one for your trouble in this matter. But only one, I think!”
Their exchange continues in that circular vein over the course of six pages. Six. Pages.
Think about that.
We didn’t get to read about any of the, you know, adventurous stuff Simon and Tim did in service of what we were told was the main quest of the book, but Simon gets to haggle for six pages over a couple of coins.
Let me say here and now for anyone reading out there: if somebody tells you that they need your help on a matter of life or death, and then you stand idly by while they try to barter with a street vendor for a few pennies off their piece of fruit, walk away. They obviously don’t know the meaning of either life or death.
The book ends about the way you might expect: Tim slays Dracula with a well-placed fantastic joke (Q: What’s black and white and red all over? A: Bela Lugosi in a blender) and Simon reunites with his fake girlfriend who never existed before this book and will never be heard from again.
She offers Tim a piece of chocolate for his troubles, but, thanks to all that growth of character along the way, he rejects her offer and, thus, her gesture of thanks. What a lovely young man he’s become.
It turns out he’s not receptive to Linda’s gift because she was only being held in torturous confinement by an undead psychopath bent on inhabiting her boyfriend’s body and conquering the world. Tim has more urgent problems, like the bully who wants to beat him up when he’s finished using the bathroom.
“Oh, well,” said Tim Bradley. “At least he’s not Dracula.”
“They are all Draculas,” said Simon Belmont. “But they can all be bested, Tim. Remember that, and stay true to what you learned in Castlevania.”
Tim Bradley smiled, took a deep breath and stepped back into his own world.
Castlevania had been pretty rough, true.
But there really was nothing scarier — or more challenging — than junior high school!
Stay classy, Tim.
So wait, does that suggest that the entire "adventure" in Castlevania really just take place in Tim's mind while he sat on the toilet, avoiding bullies? Or was Tim returned safely to the restroom from which he was abducted by the middle aged leather man?
You be the judge! If you care. Which you shouldn't. So, nevermind.